In the 1920s and 1930s, as Hollywood became a more organized institution with recognizable, marketable actors and actresses, individuals who were part of this unique, and exclusive community came under increasing scrutiny. Men and women who were a part of this elite circle were subjects of gossip, and their exploits were were laid bare and exposed to the reading public. According to historian Lois Banner, actors and actresses’ lives were described as “free and easy” in almost every sense of the phrase, and a series of scandals, including those of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, created an opportunity for critique.
Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was born in Kansas in 1887. His family moved to Santa Ana when he was about two, and with his mother’s encouragement, he began to act and sing on stage. However, his father no longer encouraged his acting when his mother passed away. Arbuckle seemed to give up on his passion and took odd jobs to get by. One day, when a customer overheard him singing while working, he was encouraged to perform at a talent show. The crowd, however, didn’t care for his singing. He tripped and fell off the stage—which sent the audience into a laughing frenzy. It was this that brought him to begin a career in vaudeville.
In 1913, he signed with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company and became one of the Keystone Kops. The Keystone Kops was a slapstick comedy sitcom of the silent era that featured Arbuckle and a handful of other actors as a squad of incompetent police officers. In the show, Arbuckle’s weight—which hovered between an estimated 250 and 300 pounds—was often part of the comedic act. Though he despised the nickname “Fatty,” it stuck.